Hans Herzog has made exemplary wines for more than thirty-five years in Europe and New Zealand, but Herzog's recent releases under the Hans label truly highlight the brilliance of the man behind the barrel. It all starts in the vineyard. A walk through Hans and Theresa Herzog's meticulously tended Wairau vineyard is akin to a stroll in paradise. Lofty green mountains hover above the fruited vineyard that recalls both the Garden of Eden and the idyll expressed on a Watteau canvas. Without seeming out of step, the Hans Winery combines the best of the natural world with the civility and comfort of old world charm. Located at the end of Jeffries Lane in one of Marlborough's more temperate locales, Herzog's Hans Winery is simply the finest vineyard in Marlborough, and, moreover, it is home to New Zealand's best restaurant.
The meticulous Herzog is renowned for practicing only sustainable methods of viticulture and intentionally limiting vineyard yields, which are purported to be the lowest per vine in Marlborough. His high-density planted vineyard comprises only ten hectares (22 acres), but it is packed with nine different varietals: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Montepulciano, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. In all, six different wines are produced at Hans, and each is more intense and profound than the next. The estate's superb Pinot Noir and expertly crafted meritage blend named Spirit of Marlborough are the winery's best known wines internationally, but Herzog's Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are superb, as well, and they easily rival their French counterparts from Alsace and Burgundy.
Marlborough: A Noble Land
Marlborough is situated on the northern tip of New Zealand's mystical South Island, where it enjoys a unique dry maritime climate. High mountains isolate this enchanted land from the cold alpine interior of the rest of the South Island, while the spectacular Marlborough Sound to the north provides a conduit to the sea as well as the planet's most majestic view of New Zealand's North Island as it soars skyward across the swells of Wellington Straits – a sight that ranks as one of the world's most stunning vistas. Moreover, Marlborough is about as close to viticultural paradise as one can find, especially for Pinot Noir and white varietals.
Marlborough's long, sunny, but not excessively hot growing season provides nearly ideal conditions for grape growing. The average summer daytime temperature hovers between 24° C and 28° C (72° - 80° F) depending upon one's altitude and proximity to the sea. The air is crystal clear and the light luminous, with nary an overcast day, let alone much rain during the long growing season. Cool nights keep acid levels high in the grapes, even as sugar levels rise abruptly. Such conditions, while lending themselves to an extended growing season, provide slow, even ripening and extended hang time for the grapes. The results are ripe, healthy fruit, fresh, vibrant flavor, and crisp underpinning, which add longevity and zing to the regions noblest wines.
In addition to its superb summer climate, Marlborough boasts excellent soil for grapes. Most of Marlborough consists of silt and free-draining alluvial loams over gravelly sub-soils. In addition, river stones lie scattered throughout Marlborough, remnants of the many rivers that once coursed through the pretty valleys of Marlborough. These river stones store heat from the warm, sunny days and radiate that heat back into the vineyards at night, thereby providing a unique microclimate and terroir, much like that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Moreover, most Marlborough growers are committed to sustainable agricultural practices in order to preserve the region's noble terroir. And the French thought they had a monopoly on terroir. We think not.